1. L - R Dale Farm's Fred Allen, Chair; Nick Whelan, Group Chief Executive; Chris McAlinden, Group Operations Director.

Source: Dale Farm

Dale Farm’s Fred Allen, chair; Nick Whelan, group chief executive; and Chris McAlinden, group operations director on site at Dunmanbridge

Northern Ireland dairy co-operative Dale Farm has invested £70m in its cheddar processing facility at Dunmanbridge in County Tyrone.

The expansion will mark one of the largest-ever single investments by a Northern Ireland agri-food company and is expected to boost production by 20,000 tonnes per year.

The plans will see Dale Farm reach a production capacity of 85,000 tonnes through the integration of “state-of-the-art technologies” and equipment at the site.

Dale Farm will also be able to make significant sustainability gains, it said.

Work on the expansion at Dunmanbridge has begun and is expected to go live in February 2025.

“Dale Farm has built a strong reputation as a leader in cheddar production, and thanks to our reputation for quality, sustainability and consistency, we are seeing strong customer growth in the category,” said Nick Whelan, group chief executive at Dale Farm.

“We are already exporting to 40 countries, and with this investment we want to build on that momentum and future-proof our operation at Dunmanbridge for decades to come.”

As well as improving and replacing the existing site-wide services and utilities, the expansion will include a new high-speed automated cheese slicing line, an increased warehouse footprint and investment in patented products and processes.

Whelan explained the company had been granted a patent for cheddar produced at the site. 

‘Another important milestone’

As well as increasing the site’s capacity and expanding its whey protein concentrate capacity, the investment will also incorporate the integration of advanced energy-efficient technologies. Together with new production processes, these will reduce the site’s carbon footprint by an estimated 4,500 tonnes per year when compared against milk powder production.

This marks “another important milestone on our journey towards net zero”, said Whelan. 

“We want to continue to lead the sector in Northern Ireland and beyond and cement our region as a global leader in quality, sustainability, and innovation,” he added.

The Dunmanbridge site currently directly supports over 1,100 families in the local area, with 345 people employed at the facility and a further 760 farms, out of Dale Farm’s 1,280 milk producers, supplying milk to it.

“This investment will be transformative not just for Dale Farm, but for the Northern Ireland rural economy,” added Whelan. “We have big plans for the future and are looking forward to the next step of this journey.”